Title: The Left-handed Booksellers of London
Author: Garth Nix
Release Date: 24/9/2020
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 46
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Gollancz, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.
This made me smile! It was exactly what I wanted it to be. It is a really fun romp through an interesting alternative London, filled with books, folklore and mythology. It is the perfect book to escape into. The characters are fun and charismatic, I loved both Susan and Merlin. Merlin was just the right amount of flamboyant to be loveable, combining a cheeky roguish humour with gallant acts and a fantastic fluidity in his gender portrayal. Susan worked well with him as while in the beginning, she was a little "dear in the head lights" swept off into this new world, she really held her own and jumped into the action when needed instead of being the damsel in distress. Merlin’s flamboyance was also counteracted nicely with Vivian (his sister) which displayed the magic system wonderfully.
The Magic system was really interesting. It is definitely a softer magic system that is just fun to read about, drawing from folklore and placing it in our world. The concept of the Left-handed, battle fighting, booksellers and the Right-handed, tactical thinking, booksellers and then the existence of the even-handed booksellers (for those who do both) all just played really well. It had that effect of making you wonder what one you would be. I like that they had a need for writing poetry, or to read to balance out the magic within. This makes the chapter headings rather fun as we get various limericks composed by a left-handed bookseller at the start of each chapter. Due to this the book is also filled with lots of nods to classic literature particularly children’s literature, some more obscure than others but that fit nicely with the 1983 setting.
All in all this is just a really fun and light-hearted read that captures that last whisps of summer feeling and pulls you along on an adventure. It is perfect if you just wants an easy going fantasy read that will leave you smiling.